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Guide to Safety in Street Confrontations
The tips below are provided by veterans of street battles within various contexts. Everyone who seeks to
use them should try to bring as many of the described materials as possible in order to provide extras to
others. But don't carry too much, as it will make it harder to move quickly when quick movements may be
required. Remember: When you record and document, you allow the world to watch, and to act; bring
more than one recording device and keep one concealed if possible, and in such a way that you may set it
to record without it being known.
Remember, the carrying capacity of the group also counts. Distribute supplies as per your group strategy
and do so as evenly as possible among protestors.
Protection & Safety
Bicycle helmets provide good protection. Those designed for down-hill racing provide full-face
cover and are the most secure. Construction helmets (hard hats) will also help protect the head, and
are as widely available as bicycle helmets.
A towel or thick cloth wrapped around the head can provide some protection, but is not optimal. It
can then be covered with a metal bowl or pot for more protection but it is important that you are
still able to see.
Remember: The momentum shock to the head can still cause internal injuries, even if the outside
of the head appears uninjured. Don’t wear things which can easily be grabbed (such as dangly
earrings or other jewelry).
Face Masks make it difficult to identify individuals, and if everyone wears masks none will stand out.
Hoods will cover most of your face and baseball caps protect you from most cameras mounted
above. Some of the best masks are t-shirts. Put your head in a shirt, use the neck hole for the
eyeholes and tie the sleeves around the back of your head
The best protection against chemical weapons is a gas mask. Any kind of mask should be tried on
and sized before you’re in the streets fumbling with unfamiliar straps. When paired with goggles,
respirators make an excellent alternative to gas masks. It is necessary to do some homework
beforehand and find goggles that are shatterproof, don’t fog up, and that fit tightly on your face
with the respirator. Respirators may be available at safety supply or welding supply vendors. Ask for
filters for particulates and organic chemicals and tell the clerk what you’re filtering to double check.
A bandanna soaked in water or vinegar and tied tightly around the nose and mouth is a last resort.
It is far better than nothing, but remember that it is merely a barrier and not a filter and so won’t do
much for long-term protection. You can keep it soaking in a plastic bag until ready to use. Bring
several, as multiple uses will render a bandanna as gassy as the air around you.
For protecting your eyes, swim goggles work well as they have a tight seal. Shatter resistance is very
important (a rubber bullet to the eye can be disastrous). Most goggles have air holes to prevent
fogging—fill these with epoxy. Covering these holes with duct tape can work in a pinch against an
initial attack, though not for long term protection. Try them on with your respirator or bandanna to
ensure that they are compatible and that both will provide a tight seal.
Don’t wear contact lenses, which can trap irritating chemicals underneath.
Wear thick clothes if you will be in range of rocks or other objects being thrown. Multiple layers
may help protect against broken bones or other severe injuries. Wear heavy-duty gloves if you plan
to handle hot tear gas canisters, fresh clothes in plastic bag (in case yours get contaminated by
Shoes These should be relatively sturdy, but still comfortable to run in, and non slippery, and, if possible,
resistant to chemicals. Dont wear anything that may slip off, make sure laces are double knotted,
Avoid use of petroleum jelly, mineral oil, oil-based sunscreen, lotions, moisturizers, or detergents on
skin because they can trap chemicals and thereby prolong exposure. Wash your clothes, your hair
and your skin beforehand in a detergent-free soap. We recommend using a water or alcohol- based
sunscreen (rather than oilbased). If your choice is between oilbased or nothing, we advocate using
the sunscreen. Getting pepper sprayed on top of a sunburn is not fun. We also recommend
minimizing skin exposure by covering up as much as possible.
Something to protect forearms with as these are a natural guard to cover face/head. Chin guards or
rolled up news papers are good alternatives. Foam plastic is a handy and light-to-carry protection
against all kinds of blows. Chairs, and folding step ladders also work as personal protection.
Keep blankets and water on hand to be used together in case of a person on fire. Use a wet blanket
to put out the fire. Do not try to use water to put petroleum (gasoline) fires out. Even a simple first-aid kit can prove very helpful in unpredictable circumstances (see below).
Safety in numbers
Remain alert and aware of your safety and the safety of people around you.
Remember you must try to avoid violence to protect the legitimacy of your movement.
Avoid heavy protein intake during active times. It is difficult to digest and will slow you down.
Carbohydrates are recommended to keep your body in energy. Banana's are good. Sugar is a quick
remedy in situations of energy lack, but it can cause your blood sugar level to drop rapidly later on.
Take care of drinking enough. At downtime, when you will have a few hours to rest, try if you can
to eat a healthy balanced meal, and get some rest.
List of objects needed to assist protesters
Fire extinguishers (do not take all fire extinguishers from an area, only extra's you can spare)
Blankets, and fire blankets if possible
Hard hats, bicycle helmets, and other head protection, sports protective gear, motorcycle and offroad
- Pots and metal bowls which can act as protection for the head in combination with a towel or other
First Aid kits, supplies, and bandages
Step ladders or other items which can provide some use as shields
Soap and disinfectants
Safety Pins and Tape
Some Recommended Contents for a First Aid Kit
Rubbing and wipes
Disposable latex gloves
Face mask for CPR
Sugar or glucose solution
The source of this document will have other documents for you soon. Also see the Guide to Protecting the
North African Revolution series for additional expertise on defense, offense, tactics, and security; this may
be found via Google.
If you see it coming or get a warning, put on protective gear.
If able, try to move away or get upwind.
Stay calm. Panicking increases the irritation.
Breathe slowly and remember it is only temporary.
Blow your nose, rinse your mouth, cough and spit. Try not to swallow.
If you wear contacts, try to remove the lenses or get someone to remove them for you, with clean,
If exposed to
For the eyes
We recommend a solution of half liquid antacid (like Maalox) and half water. A spray bottle is ideal
but a bottle that has a squirt cap works as well. Always irrigate from the inside corner of the eye
towards the outside, with head tilted back and slightly towards the side being rinsed. It seems from
our trials that it needs to get into the eye to help. This means that if the sprayed person says
okay you should try to open their eye for them. They most likely won’t be able/willing to open it
themselves, and opening will cause a temporary increase in pain, but the solution does help. It works
great as a mouth rinse too.
For the skin
We recommend canola oil followed by alcohol. Carefully avoiding the eyes, vigorously wipe the skin
that was exposed to the chemical with a rag or gauze sponge saturated with canola oil. Follow this
immediately with a rubbing of alcohol. Remember that alcohol in the eyes hurts A LOT. Anyone
whose eyes you get alcohol in will not be your friend.
Secondary treatments can include
spitting, blowing your nose, coughing up mucous (you don’t want to swallow these chemicals!),
walking around with your arms outstretched, removing contaminated clothing, and taking a cool
shower. In fact, it is essential to shower and wash your clothes (this time in real detergents) as soon
as you are able. This shit is toxic, and will continually contaminate you and everyone around you
until you get rid of it. Until then, try not to touch your eyes or your face, or other people, furniture,
carpets etc. to avoid further contamination. Remember, it is only temporary, and we are extremely
Staying Safe & Sensible in an Action
A demonstration where police might attack requires a higher level of tactical awareness than your run-of-the-mill picket. Here are some generally applicable suggestions to help you stay safe and effective in the
Always have a safe space in mind. All demonstrators need to be aware of a safe place to get to if a
situation grows out of hand. You define “safe” and “unsafe” for yourself. For some, safe is among the locked
arms of fellow activists, right on the front lines; but there’s no shame in a lower threshold, for any number
of reasons. Safe spaces change depending on movement and barriers by other demonstrators and the
police, etc. In some cases they include wide open spaces or public areas. Other times they may take the
form of an alleyway or similar hiding spot. There’s no hard and fast rule about finding a safe space, but the
time to have one in mind is before the shit hits the fan.
Always have an exit in mind. Assess how to leave a bad situation. Maybe it is best to be in a large group
for protection. But if the police are herding you like cattle, then the large crowd is their focus and you may
need to break up and leave in small groups. Getting away one moment might be your only chance to be
active the next. Arrange with your buddies how to leave, and how to re-connect if you get separated.
Use the buddy system and move in a group. If at all possible, make sure to have a partner you can trust, to
whom you will always stay close. That way, at least one person always knows your whereabouts and
condition. Working in small groups of people, all of whom you know well and trust with your own safety,
is another important factor. Even if you are not part of an organized group with a plan of action, it is
helpful to at least be with folks you can rely on.
Be aware of crowd dynamics and dangers. You need to know what is going on - not just in view, but
around the corners and a few blocks away. Pay attention to the mood of the crowd and the police. Certain
actions like property destruction and violence will likely be caused by or result in violent behavior on the
part of police. Be aware of police movement and different groups of protestors entering or leaving an area.
Try to monitor the vibes and focuses of friends and foes at all times.
Know what is going on out of view by regularly sending out scouts to investigate what the police and
other demonstrators are up to. Since the situation at a dynamic protest will change frequently and rapidly,
scouts need to check around and report back often. It’s a good idea to appoint a pair of group members as
Don’t act on rumors. It’s common at demonstrations for someone to approach a group of activists
shouting, “The riot cops are coming!” As often as not, of course, there are no police coming at all. These
people may simply be panicking, or they may be agents trying to confuse you. Acting on bad information
is disruptive at best, and often dangerous. All critical information needs to be verified. If the person
conveying info can’t claim to have witnessed something directly, or if he or she is a stranger, then that
information is unreliable.
Assume the riot cops may be coming. While acting on rumors and fear-mongering can be disruptive and
dangerous, it shouldn’t be surprising when the “authorities” do decide to blockade, surround, penetrate or
break up a demonstration. This happens frequently, and the key to not being caught off guard is to stay
Don’t panic; help others stay calm. Sometimes at actions, the situation grows just plain frightening. But
panic reduces critical judgment, adapting and coping abilities, and it can spread rapidly. Our best defense
in a crisis is our collective cool - keeping each other centered & focused. If you can’t stay focused and
centered, then you need to quit the demo to calm down. Similarly, if someone else can’t be calmed down,
they need to leave.
Your best offense and defense is being part of a solid group. Groups combine various skills and powers.
Savvy groups practice often, plan, and develop amazing strategies and tactics that are beyond the abilities
of individuals. They have the numbers to do the various tasks: act, scout, medical, communicate with
others, security, etc, yet they are small enough to act quickly.
Fighting Police Tactics
Often, the police strategy at a protest they want to end is to disperse the participants. They tend to operate
in coordinated units, and use the following tactics
Show of force to intimidate and scare people away.
Surprise attacks by troops hidden in reserve.
Surround and isolate entire crowds – sometimes not allowing people to leave or enter. They may
also try to divide the crowd by moving into it at its weakest point. If you see the police about to
attack your weak spot, try to reinforce it. When dispersing demonstrators, they may try to drive
them like cattle towards certain areas and away from other areas. Your group can avoid the cattle
drive dynamic by splitting off from the crowd. This can be effective if the police are operating as
small units and not splitting up to deal with smaller groups outside the crowd.
- Police will often use snatch squads to perform surprise arrests of individuals they have chosen at
random from the crowd, or whom they identify as “leaders” or “troublemakers”. Snatch squads often
are made up of, or collaborate with undercover agents, and can strike at any time. The best time to
stop a snatch is as soon as the snatch has happened. You need a group of people to break the police’s
grip and some people to act as blocks. An important and low risk role in the de-arrest involves
simply placing your body between the police and their target. Once you have your person back, all
should link arms and disappear into the crowd. The police may try to snatch back or arrest one of
the de-arresters. Surrounding police vehicles containing arrestees and preventing them from moving
might lead to them being released. Cars don’t move very well when they have flat tires, but keep in
mind that when tires are punctured they can be loud.
Always be on the look-out for where your friends are, and be ready to act clearly and sensibly at a
Outmaneuvering The Police
Don’t let yourself be intimidated onto the sidewalk. Police will push marches onto sidewalks in order to
thin them out and divide them into smaller groups. Once the police force a march onto the sidewalk they
can much more easily direct its movements and single out troublemakers.
Street crossings can be used to move into the roadway though groups may have to turn. In instances like
this people walking bicycles can help form barriers, which will slow down police trying to push into the
Police move slow, so move quickly and in a large tight group. Occasionally running in a coordinated
manner will help to keep the police always behind you. Countdowns will not only intimidate the police
but they get you all charged up before running. Moving the wrong way down one-way streets my thin out
the demonstration (as people have to make room for stopped cars) but it makes it very difficult for large
groups of police to follow. Look outwards from the crowd. If someone is being administered first aid, face
away from them.
Form cordons around anything the police want. (buildings, sound equipment, etc.)
Sitting down is good for dissuading police charging but only in large numbers. Sometimes sitting is not
really worth it. Horses and camels are unpredictable. Particularly violent cops, especially those employing
gases or rubber bullets, may be dangerous to sit in front of.
Throwing is a defensive act. It may not be wise to throw stuff at the best of times – that will only provoke
them and make them want to hit you harder. If you want to throw, do it defensively, strategically, and en
masse – a constant hail of debris will create a ‘sterile area’ where the police will not want to go.
Remember: don’t throw to attack or cause injury. Throw from the front and then disappear into the crowd.
Only jerks throw from the back.
Gas canisters can be thrown or kicked away from the crowd before they explode. Be careful! Don’t pick up
with your bare hands, as they can be very hot. They will explode.
Barricades can be more hassle than they are worth. Impassable blockades may be an inconvenience to you
when you need to run. The best barricades are random material like newspaper boxes, dumpsters turned
on the side, and road or construction material, strewn all over. One or two groups can lift small parked cars
and place them in the street with out damaging them.
The best defense is chaos. If situations change constantly the police cannot keep up. Keep moving. Change
your appearance. Open new directions and possibilities. Be unpredictable.
Watch out for provocateurs including but not limited to “peace police”. These self appointed enforcers of
“peace” infiltrate demonstrations and try to prevent people from walking in the street or engaging in many
forms of protest. They sometimes wear armbands (usually white) and will report people to the police or
attempt to apprehend them personally. Also watch out for individuals trying to instigate violence against
obvious non-targets. These people are often police or employed by them to discredit us.
Countering the Police
With any rowdy crowd, the police will be trying to break it up.They will try to intimidate and disperse
crowds using baton line charges, horse charges, vehicles, gases, rubber/wooden bullets and a few violent
The dance steps will include one or more of these:
Cops in lines will surround you.
Either from the middle or one side, the cop lines will force everyone onto the sidewalk trying to
create ‘spectators’ & ‘actors’ out of the crowd.
Baton/horse/gas attack to lower morale.
Loud speakers, and concussion grenades, to disorient and breakup the crowd.
Line charges will slowly push the crowd down the street to where they want you (rush of cops à fall
back à strengthen line à repeat).
The police cannot arrest large groups of people unless they have lots of little plastic handcuffs.
The police won’t use tear gas unless they have their own gas masks on.
Stop the lines from forming! Surrounding you, preventing you from going where you want to go, and
pushing you down the street to where they want you to go, all require the police to be in a tight line. It is
important to prevent the first lines from forming. If the crowd seems volatile, they will hold back and form
their lines a distance away. But if the crowd is hanging around looking confused and passive they will
sneak in and form the lines amongst you.
Don’t stand and watch them. Always stay moving
Don’t look like you’ll let them anywhere near you.
Spot gaps in the crowd and fill them. stick together.
Figure out where they want to go and get there first.
Protect your escape routes by standing in front of them.
Get those people who turned into ‘spectators’ back into the crowd and moving around.
Now they may just charge and start arresting. At least you are in a stronger position to deal and your
escape routes are secured. Whatever happens next, don’t stand there waiting for it. Keep moving and
If they have blocked your only exit try counter advancing
this involves moving your lines into theirs thus gaining more space and opening up more exits.
Use the front line as a solid wall, linking arms and moving slowly forward.
Try a countdown for a faster advance.
Use the banner as a plow (this prevents them from breaking your line). Dumpsters on wheels, saw
horses and fencing also work.
If they have blocked your only exit try reforming
always look for ways to increase your number, by joining up with other groups and absorbing
stragglers. Everyone has to get out and you’ll stand a better chance of getting out unharmed, with
all your belongings and equipment if you leave together at the same time.